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Richard Towneley and the rain gauge

For my occasional series of “Science is nearer than you think” I went three miles from home to Towneley Hall In Burnley, Lancashire.


This was the home of Richard Towneley (1629 – 1707) a man who made contributions to several lines of science enquiry.

Today I am considering his work with the rain gauge.


The measurement of rain had been carried out in Ancient Greece and India over two thousand years ago and also in Korea much later in 1441. The measurement of rain was related to the growth of crops and the taxes that could be applied to their yield. In 1639 Benedetto Castelli, a student of Gallileo, was the first person to use a rain gauge in Europe. In the 1660’s Sir Christopher Wren was the first person in Britain to make a rain gauge and in 1677 Richard Towneley began using one in his studies on rainfall.

The rain gauge had a funnel which was 30 cm across. Located on the roof of Towneley Hall, a pipe connected to the funnel which directed the rainwater inside to a measuring cylinder. Richard Towneley was the first person to record rainfall over a long period – from 1677 until 1703. His work stimulated others, such as the naturalist Gilbert White  to keep rainfall records in the eighteenth century.


There are no portraits of Richard Towneley but for the exhibition inside the hall a likeness has been produced wearing clothes of the time.

In my next post I’ll show how your child (or if you’re a teacher, those in your class) can make their own rain gauge and start measuring rainfall. There are lots more activities related to the weather for Key Stage 1 and Key stage 2 children in the Hot Topics book Weather and climate.

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